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AH-1W Air Combat Maneuver Training -- Why It Must Be Reinstated
CSC 1992
		Major R. M. BRADY
		CG# 9
		6 April, 1992
                          EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Titie: AH-1W Air Combat Maneuver Training -- Why It Must Be Reinstated
Author:  Major R. M. Brady, USMC
Thesis:  In  order  for an HMLA squadron to be capable of
accomplishing its three doctrinal anti-air warfare (AAW) mission,
AH-1W air combat maneuver (ACM) training must be reinstated.
Background:  Since I987, AH-1W ACM training has been prohibited due
to a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) flight restriction.  As of
this date, there is no definitive solution or timeframe for
reinstating this essential training.  In accordance with Marine
Corps doctrine, an HMLA squadron has three attack helicopter AAW
missions.  In order for the AH-1W to be an effective AAW weapon
platform, it must be flown by pilots that are knowledgeable and
"proficient" in ACM (to include air-to-air weapon employment).
Proficiency in ACM can only be achieved through dynamic and
realistic flight training.  Because of the current AH-1W ACM flight
restriction, AH-1W pilots are unable to gain or maintain ACM
Recommendation:  The importance of "realistic" ACM training must be
reemphasized within the Marine Corps and NAVAIR.  A realistic and
expeditious solution for reinstating AH-1W ACM training must be
found if an HMLA squadron is to be considered capable of
accomplishing its assigned AAW missions.
Thesis statement:  In order for an  HMLA squadron to be capable of
accomplishing its three doctrinal anti-aid warfare (AAW) missions,
air combat maneuver (ACM) training must be reinstated for the
I.     The AH-1W ACM problem
       A. Doctrinal AH-1 AAW missions
       B.ACM proficiency requirement
       C.  Current ACM training restriction
II.    The importance of solving the ACM problem
       A.  The Threat
       B.  History of AH-1 ACM training
       C.  NAVAIR ACM restriction
       D.  Importance of realistic ACM training
III.   Solving the AH-1W ACM problem
       A.  Priority in the Marine Corps
       B. Further NAVAIR  testing
       C.Marine Corps/NAVAIR compromises
     FMFRP 1-11(Fleet Marine Force Organization 1990) lists 11
mission tasks assigned to the AH-1's of a Marine Light/Attack
Helicopter  (HMLA)  squadron.  of  these  11 tasks,  two  of  them
specifically require the AH-1 to conduct anti-air warfare (AAW).
The  first  of  these  tasks  is  to  "conduct  anti-helicopter
operations."  The second is to "conduct point and limited area air
defense from threat fixed wing aircraft."  Additionally, another
listed task contains an implied AAW mission in that "conduct armed
escort  for  assault  support  operations"  inherently  includes
protecting transport helicopters from attacking enemy aircraft,
both fixed wing and helicopters.
     Doctrinally,  it is clear that the USMC AH-1 has an AAW
mission. (5:5-35) In order to be an effective AAW platform, the
AH-1 must be flown by aircrew that are knowledgeable and proficient
in air combat maneuvers (ACM). Sadly, this is no longer the case
in the Marine Corps.  The AH-1W is presently restricted from flying
ACM and consequently, air-to-air weaponry and tactics receive
limited emphasis in AH-1 pilot training.
     The problem of perishing ACM proficiency within the AH-1
community began in late 1987.  It was generated by a controversial
ACM restriction placed on the AH-1W by the Naval Air Systems
Command (NAVAIR).  This restriction still exists today with no
definitive solution for lifting it anytime in the near future.  This
is indeed a very serious problem.  If AH-1 pilots cannot become and
stay proficient in ACM, then an HMLA squadron cannot be expected
to sucessfully accomplish the three AAW missions assigned to it
by Marine Corps doctrine.
     So, what's the solution to this problem?  Obviously, the final
solution must include a full  lifting of this AH-1W ACM flight
restriction.  In order to achieve this, there must be a renewed
emphasis within the Marine Corps and NAVAIR on the importance of
conducting realistic ACM training within the AH-1 community.  There
must also be renewed emphasis on the importance of finding a
solution to this ACM restriction problem "now".
     To better understand the importance of  solving this ACM
restriction problem, it needs to be examined from five distinct
aspects. The first is the threat that drives the requirement for
ACM skill and proficiency.  The second is the historical development
of AH-1 ACM training and AH-1 AAW missions within the Marine Corps.
The third is the basis of the NAVAIR AH-1W ACM restriction, as well
as the opposing arguments against it.  The fourth is the importance
of conducting realistic ACM flight training. The fifth and final
aspect is the possible solution itself--what can and should be done
                          THE THREAT
     The past 15 years have proven that air combat involving
helicopters can and will occur in most conflicts where the opposing
forces possess combat aircraft.  Historical examples provide good
insight into future scenarios in which helicopter air combat can
be expected to occur.
     The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War witnessed numerous helicopter air
combat   engagements.  During this war, Iranian AH-1J' s engaged Iraqi
MI-8 Hip and MI-24 Hind helicopters.  Unclassified sources report
that the Iranian AH-1 pilots achieved a 10:1 kill ratio over the
Iraqi   helicopter   pilots   during   these   engagements (1:5)
Additionally,  Iranian  AH-1  and  Iraqi  fixed  wing  aircraft
engagements  also occurred.
     The 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina brought
helicopter air combat  into the history of  amphibious assault
operations.  Air combat between helicopters and fixed wing aircraft
occurred on both sides.  British Sea King and Westland helicopters
were attacked by Argentine A-4 skyhawks.  At least one Westland
Scout was shot down during these engagements.(3:I)  Conversely,
British AV-8 Sea Harriers attacked and shot down numerous Argentine
helicopters.(I :3)  As a result of these engagements, the British
subsequently placed a much increased emphasis on helicopter ACM
training (1:3)
     Israel's  1982  "Peace  for  Galilee"  campaign  is  another
historical example of the threat that fixed wing fighter or attack
aircraft pose to helicopters.  During this intense air war campaign,
Israeli fighters shot down Syrian helicopters with impunity.
     The past I5 years have also seen a worldwide proliferation of
attack helicopters and lethal anti-helicopter weapon systems.  The
ex-Soviet Union produced and exported hundreds of heavily armed
MI-24 attack helicopters as well as the very heavily armed MI-8
transport helicopter.  The most recent Soviet helicopter development
was the Hokum -- an aircraft "specifically" designed to combat other
     Attack  helicopters including  U.S.  made  models,  are
commonplace among many Third NorId and non-NATO aligned nations.
North Korea possesses the Hughes MD-500, Iran possesses the Bell
AH-1J.  Additionally, European attack helicopters are commonplace
throughout the globe.
     A wide variety of ground weapon systems have been adapted for
use as air-to-air weapons on attack helicopters.  Most of these are
particularly effective against other helicopters.  A prime example
is the evolvement of the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) into a
deadly anti-helicopter weapon system.   Another example is  the
adaptation to helicopters of the surface man-portable air defense
missile.  This type of missile provides a "fire and forget" infrared
homing weapon which is lethal against slow moving helicopters.
     Helicopter air combat can be expected to occur throughout the
entire spectrum of conflict -- low intensity (LIC), mid intensity
(MIC), and high intensity (HIC).  Given the proliferation of attack
helicopters  and  air-to-air  anti-helicopter  weapon  systems,
helicopter ACM is not just a HIC scenario.  It can occur in any
level of conflict in which the opponents possess combat aircraft
capable of functioning as an air-to-air weapon platform.  The almost
complete absence of helicopter ACM engagements during Desert Storm
must "not" be used as an indication of future trends.  Desert Storm
was very unique in that the Allies had "complete" air supremacy and
there were incredibly few Iraqi sorties flown, either by fixed wing
aircraft or helicopters.
     In  the  late  1970's,  the  Marine  Corps  recognized  the
probability of helicopters becoming engaged in air combat during
future conflicts.  The  result  was  a  doctrinal  evolution  of
helicopter ACM developed by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics
Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1).  MAWTS-1  pioneered  the  development of
relatively advanced tactics for helicopter ACM in the Marine Corps
and other U.S. armed services.  The basic fundamental for the
development of helicopter ACM is summarized well in the MAWTS-1
Helicopter ACM Guide introduction:
          Over the past twenty years, the proliferation of
          lethal anti-helicopter weapons on the modern
          battlefield has forced a revolutionary change in
          the Marine Corps approach to conducting the
          traditional heliborne assault.  Threat aerial plat-
          forms (both fixed wing and helicopter), designed
          specifically to counter our airborne mobility,
          present us with a particularly difficult tactical
          problem.  In order to survive and operate effectively
          in the face of these persistent airborne threats,
          all Marine helicopter aircrew must be familiar with
          the modern concepts of air combat maneuvering.
     Doctrinally tasked with the mission of aerial  escort for
transport helicopters, AAW and ACM mission capability for the
AH-1 subsequently received increased emphasis.  A direct result of
this  increased  emphasis  was  the  introduction  of  the  AIM-9
Sidewinder missile on the AH-1 in the early 1980's.  With the
introduction of the AIM-9 on the AH-1, the Marine Corps became the
first U.S. armed service to field a "dedicated" air-to-air capability
on a helicopter in the form of a combat proven, reliable, and
lethal infrared guided missile.  To this day, no other service is
capable of employing the AIM-9 on a helicopter.
     Missions assigned to the AH-1 continued to develop into tasks
which included active AAW.  The decision to employ the AH-1 as an
air-to-air  intercept platform  for  emergency  defense  of  the
amphibious  task  force  (EDATF)  first arose during 1983 Marine
Amphibious Readiness Group (MARG) operations off the coast of
Beirut, Lebanon.  Faced with the possibility of a significant
terrorist  threat  involving  the  suicide  delivery  of  airborne
explosives from light civil aircraft, the MARG employed AH-1's on
a ready-alert status as an EDATF asset. (4:iii)  Four years later,
Marine AH-1's were again tasked with the mission of EDATF during
contingency operations in the Persian Gulf.  Utilization of the
AH-1 as a visual combat air patrol (VISCAP) platform against both
fixed wing aircraft and helicopters subsequently evolved into
Marine Corps doctrine.
     AH-1 ACM training continued to receive increased emphasis
within the Marine Corps.  In 1987, the AH-1W Training and Readiness
(T&R)  Manual  expanded  the  ACM  flight  training  syllabus.
Additionally, the AH-1 Tactical Manual (NWP 55-3) was updated to
include detailed information on the tactics for employment of the
AIM-9.  AH-I  ACM  capability  was  further  improved  with  the
introduction of the "W" series AH-1.  The AH-1W features a
"Head-Up Display" (HUD) which allows the pilot to uncage the seeker
head of an AIM-9 missile prior to launch.  Uncaging the missile
seeker head greatly improves the ability to tactically employ an
AIM-9.  Uncaging the seeker head was not previously possible on the
older "J" and "T" series AH-1's.
     In late 1987, AH-1W ACM training in the Marine Corps came to
a  halt.  NAVAIR  officially  restricted  AH-1W ACM  flight for
engineering reasons. The restriction was based on results from ACM
flight load survey testing conducted at the Naval Air Test Center
     The reason for  the  restriction  is  not  that  the AH-1W  is
structurally unsafe for ACM flight during non-FMF.  In fact, the AH-1W has
been cleared for ACM flight during non-FMF research and testing
projects.  What the restriction revolves around is the extra stress
loads ACM flight places on various aircraft dynamic components.
NAVAIR engineers "theorize" that the extra stress will significantly
reduce the service life limit (measured in flight hours) of certain
key components.  Many of these components are in short supply and
the reduced service life (and subsequent early replacement) would
be cost prohibitive.
     As  stated  earlier,  this  ACM  restriction  has  generated
tremendous  and  bitter  controversy  within  the  Marine  Corps,
particularly  within  the  AH-1  community.  AH-1  pilots  are
understandably upset,  and many challenge the validity of this
NAVAIR restriction.  Their reasoning against this restriction is
diverse, but it generally falls within one of three major opposing
     The first argument is that ACM flight exceeds "none" of the
flight limits that are approved for all the  other types of AH-1W
training.  The Naval Aviation Operational Performance Standards
(NATOPS) Manual  for  the AH-1W  delineate "one"  set  of  flight
limitations (angle of bank, airspeed, "G" limit, etc.) (7:I-4-7/8)
There are no exceptions (extra or reduced limitations) for the
various types of mission training.  The AH-1W NATOPS limits are the
same for  "any" type  of flight,  be  it  instrument,  familiarization,
ordnance delivery, or ACM.  In essence then, a pilot can legally
fly an AH-1W at any or all of its maximum NATOPS flight limits for
extended periods of time during any non-ACM flight.  As soon as the
flight is designated as "ACM" however, it is no longer authorized.
Why then, pilots argue, is it perfectly allowable to aggressively
fly the AH-1W to its NATOPS limits "without restriction" on any non-
ACM flight, but it's not allowable to do the same for an ACM
flIght?  Maneuvers terminating in higher aircraft loads than those
experienced during ACM flight can "and do" occur on other types of
flights such as tactical ordnance delivery and post maintenance
check flights.
     The second argument is that the results of the AH-1W ACM
flight load testing were very limited and not extensive enough to
justify the NAVAIR restriction.  The NATC flight load survey itself
concluded that "within the scope of the survey, the static strength
of the AH-1W is satisfactory for the air-to-air mission.  The impact
of component fatigue life is still being assessed." (2:2)  This
leads to the heart of the argument itself.  NAVAIR's restriction is
based on a "theoretical" impact of ACM stress loads on component
service life.  No long term quantitative data has been compiled to
support this theory. (2:2) It is based on short term testing done
at NATC, and not on a wide spectrum of flight data and  component
inspections compiled from operational flights throughout the Marine
     The third argument examines the question of how many times
high stress loads are actually placed on an AH-1W during an ACM
flight.  This argument peaked in emotion in 1990 when temporary
authorization was granted to conduct ACM with four AH-1W's in
support of a classified project.  The NAVAIR authorization for these
aircraft  stipulated  that  for  every  one  hour  of  ACM  flight
conducted, many components would be exponentially penalized in
hourly component life.  From the Marine Corps perspective, this was
totally unrealistic.  Subsequently, the argument grew over how much
time during an ACM flight an aircraft is actually flown at or close
to the NATOPS maneuver limits.  The Marine Corps contends that very
little time of an ACM flight is actually spent in an engagement.
Furthermore, an even less amount of this engagement time is spent
in a regime that approaches severity and reaches the NATOPS limits.
ACM flight data collected during the 1990  classifIed project
confirmed this contention. (2:1) MAWTS-1's AH-1 Division summarizes 
this issue as follows:
          Flight time associated with AH-1W ACM sorties is
          1.5 hours per evolution.  There are five ACM sorties
          in the current T&R Volume III.  Of that I.5 hours per
          sortie, an average of 8-12 minutes of actual engage-
          ment time occurs (if you start the time at the "fight's
          on" call and stop it at-the "terminate call.") All
          of that 8-12 minutes does not necessarily mean the
          aircraft is maneuvering at the maximum NATOPS limits.
          Pre-merge tactical maneuvering is no more severe
          than normal formation flying.  Only at the merge
          does the severity of the maneuvers approach the
          NATOPS limits for the aircraft.  As the merge is
          transited, maneuver severity is again reduced.  The
          bottom line is that the actual maneuvering to the
          NATOPS limits is further reduced from 8-12 minutes
          per 1.5 hour sortie to a realistic 3-5 minutes. (2:1)
     Realistic AH-1 ACM training is extremely important regardless
of the conflict intensity level that the Marine Corps may be
associated with.  Helicopter aerial engagements will  often  be
lethal.  The relatively low speed of helicopters makes disengagement 
from air combat virtually impossible unless a mutual desire for
disengagement is present among all the combatants. (6:7-28) For
helicopter aircrew engaged in aerial combat, " it doesn't matter
what  the  strategic classification of  the  conflict is; the
perspective is one of all-out war." (I: 2)
     Success in ACM engagement against a formidable enemy will
require AH-1 aircrew to possess an exceptional understanding of
aircraft capabilities  add  limitations  within a "maneuvering"
environment. (6:7-7)   Additionally,  the  aircrew  must   be
knowledgeable and proficient  in employing the AH-1's air-to-air
weapons within this dynamic, maneuvering environment.  Finally, the
aircrew must remain aware of developing events during an ACM
engagement, otherwise known as "situational awareness".  Mastery of
this  complex  situation  (maneuver,  weapon  employment,  and
situational awareness) can only be attained through realistic and
intense ACM training.  (6:7-56)
     The  ability  to  successfully  maneuver  an  aircraft  in  an
intense, dynamic environment is the basic building block of ACM
training.  A goal of realistic ACM training is to teach a pilot how
to maximize the AH-1's performance by maintaining "energy" and
maintaining  balanced  flight.  Balanced  fIight  is  a  basic
consideration during all flight profiles, but it is especially
important during ACM flight when bank angles and "G" loads approach
and reach the NATOPS limits.  It is  unrealistic to assume that a
pilot  with  little  or  no  ACM  training  can fly and competently
maneuver the AH-1 to its fullest potential during an actual ACM
     Weapon system employment in an air-to-air situation takes on
an entirely different perspective from that during an air-to-ground
scenario.  Air-to-air weapon employment is often more difficult and
complex  than  air-to-ground weapon employment.  Each air-to-air
weapon system possesses unique requirements for successful
employment:  effective range, kinematic range, acquisition range,
shooter-to-target aspect, lead computation, etc. (6:7-56) In order
to maximize the effectiveness of air-to-air weapons,  all of the
requirements specific to a weapon system must normally be satisfied
simultaneously.  Trying  to  satisfy  these  requirements  in  the
dynamic, maneuvering environment of ACM can be extremely difficult,
even for ACM proficient pilots.  Air-to-air weaponry proficiency can
only be achieved through realistic ACM training.
     The attainment of situational awareness is perhaps the most
important gain of realistic ACM training.  "A pilot who does not
possess situational awareness in an ACM environment is a liability
to  mission  accomplishment,  aircrew  coordination,  and   mutual 
suppot."  (6:7-56) ACM training inherently focuses on improving
situational  awareness.  An  AH-1  pilot  with  well  developed
need to fly the aircraft with "aerial violence" in an ACM survival
situation.  Violent maneuvers with an AH-1 airframe can result in
mast-bumping, overstress, overtorque, high sink rates, and an out-
of-control flight condition.  In other words, the enemy achieves a
"kill" without actually shooting sown his adversary.  The following
is a MAWTS-1 AH-1 Division summary concerning the importance of
realistic ACM training in relation to improving situational awareness:
	Air combat meneuver training is absolutely
	essential in order to elevate aircrew overall
	situational awareness which is essential for
	survival on the battlefield.  ACM training evolutions
	provide the "only training in which a pilot actually
	faces a dynamic adversary".  As such, evaluation of a
	pilot's situational awareness capacity can be
	accomplished prior to actual combat operations.
	Aircrew learn respect for their aircraft by flying
	within the limitations set forth in NATOP while
	countering the adversary.  "Fighting smart" becomes
	evident.  By learning how to control an aircraft
	(physically and through aircrew coordination) or
	a section of aircraft in a highly fluid and taxing
	environment, the aircrew enhance their chances for
	survival and mission accomplishment in battle against
	airborne and ground-based threats.  Additionally, the
	chance of giving the adversary a "cheap kill" by
	losing situational awareness is reduced as proficiency
	in ACM increases.  Elevated situational awareness is
	not directly associated with high flight time.
	Regardless of time in model, those individuals void
	of previous ACM training have lower levels of
	situational awareness than those who have recent
          	ACM experience.  Realistic training must occur for
          	an aircrew to develop a tactical decision matrix. ( 2:2)
     As one can easily deduce, there is no simple and easy soIution
for solvIng the problem of the NAVAIR AH-1W ACM restriction.
However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that it "can" be solved,
"realistically" and "expeditiously," if both opposing sides  (NAVAIR and
the Marine Corps) consciously recognize the importance of AH-1W ACM
     The first step in solving this problem begins with the Marine
Corps itself.  The highest levels of leadership in both the FMF and
HQMC must make lifting the AH-1W ACM restriction a "priority." If
this  doesn't  happen,  the problem is not going to get solved,
realistically or expeditiously.  The ACM restriction is not  just  an
AH-1 community  problem, it is a "Marine Corps" problem.  The AH-1
is doctrinally tasked with conducting three AAW missions.  If the
AH-1 community cannot conduct realistic ACM traInIng, then it can
not be expected  to successfully accomplish these missions, "period."
Although there were no Marine helicopter ACM engagements in Desert
Storm, it does not mean there will not be any in future conflicts.
Had Marine helicopter ACM occurred in Desert Storm, and had Marine
helicopters been shot down by Iraqi aircraft, the AH-1W ACM problem
would probably be well on its way to being solved.
     The second step in the solution is straightforward.  NAVAIR
must "expeditiously" conduct more extensive and "realistic" testing
with which to validate the "actual" effects of ACM flight on the
AH-IW.  The testing must include flights flown in strict compliance
with the T&R syllabus and the MAWTS-1 ACM Guide.  Effects of stress
loads on components must be verified by inspection, and not just
be based on theory.  Any compromise reached between NAVAIR and the
Marine Corps on penalizing component service life due to ACM "must"
be based on the actual time an aircraft is flown at the NATOPS
     The final solution will undoubtedly involve compromises from
both sides.  However, there is one issue that the Marine Corps must
"never" compromise on, and that is the issue of ACM flight parameters 
remaining the same as the normal NATOPS limits.  ACM training will
never be realistic if it cannot be conducted to the full extent of
the NATOPS parameters when necessary.  Any restrictions imposed
other than those in NATOPS will truly be self-defeating.  ACM is a
survival skill, and pilots must know how to get the most out-of
their aircraft within its prescribed capabilities.
1."Examination of the Significance of Continuing Helicopter Air
Combat-Maneuvering (ACM) Training."  Information Paper:  MAWTS-1.
2. "Items of Concern to AH-1W Division Concerning ACM Waiver."
Information Paper:  MAWTS-1
3. Mahaffey, Mark, Captain, USMC.  "Air to Air Gunnery for the AH-1."  MAWTS-1, 1986
4.Mahaffey,Mark, Major, USMC, and P.J. Gough, Major, USMC.
"Attack Helicopter Intercept Procedure/Capabilities.  MAWTS- 1, 1989
5.U.S.Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "Fleet
Marine Force Organization 1990,"  FMFRP 1-11.  Quantico, 1990
6.U.S. Navy. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. "AH-1 Tactical
Manual", NWP 55-3-AH1 (Vol I).  Washington D.C., 1989
7.U.S.Navy.  Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. "NATOPS Flight
Manual, AH-1W Helicopter,"  NAVAIR 01-H1AAC-1.  Washington D.C.,

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